When we bought the house in the Ourika Valley, forty kilometers distant from Marrakech and at an altitude of a thousand meters in the High Atlas Mountains, we really didn’t know what we were getting in to. Our wish to own the house was based on our desire to live in a world where the pace of life is a little slower but at a convenient distance from the red city of Marrakech and its international airport. It was inspired by an infatuation with Morocco and honestly, the spectacular view from the garden and terrace. So little did we understand at the beginning of our adventure about the many cultural bridges we’d be crossing. Despite the many years of experience that we have in this enchanting country, Morocco never ceases to surprise or amaze us!
If measured in time, the buoyant city of Marrakech is just a mere forty-five minutes’ drive from the peaceful and soul soothing Ourika Valley. A road connects those two worlds as the asphalt carries the breath of Marrakech with its commerce and modernization far into the valley. But away from the road, on mountain edges, rural Berber villages have preserved an ancient culture. A way of life in which I can only partially participate due to my dependency on modern amenities, but which has me caught in a marvelous fascination.
The first thing I really began to appreciate about my life in Morocco was the unlimited amount of time I had to explore the wonders of this beautiful and diverse country. No longer time-bound in travel schedules, hurried visits through interesting places, and short acquaintances with people I really wanted to know better, I was buying artisanal souvenirs impulsively, happily bedazzled by the colors and enormous choice of items in the souks of Marrakech. There is so much more to be found if you have the time to distinguish quality and true craftsmanship from mass production or import. In particular I enjoy my journey of discovery into the Berber culture, which doesn’t disclose itself easily. Despite the initial hospitality of Berber people, I soon discovered that they are far from transparent and very reluctant to give insight in their beliefs and traditions to outsiders. It has taken me literally years to be referred to locally by my name instead of as ‘the foreigner’!
My persevering interest in the traditions of the many different Berber tribes throughout Morocco has opened doors to friendships with some amazing people from both Arabic and Berber origin. It has also instigated my passion for the household products designed and created by Berber women for domestic use, such as pottery and carpets. Not only are they stunningly beautiful (which hasn’t gone unnoticed by the international art world or interior designers) but they silently give insight into a culture which has its roots in heathen religions. The talismanic symbols tell stories of superstition and reflect awareness of the spirit world, which in the rural regions has not yet been eradicated by Islamic interdiction. The minimalistic and abstract images are expressions of the natural environment and translate the fear and aspirations of the weaver.
In the small Berber villages that surround us in the Ourika Valley, women still make Boucherouite carpets for domestic use or to be sold at local markets. These ‘rag’ rugs made from scraps of discarded materials derive from poverty and lack of wool, but they are magnificent color palettes. They brighten and decorate the extreme simple interiors of a Berber home. On many occasions I’ve had the privilege to drink tea or eat sitting on a unique Boucherouite carpet in the homes of friends. Nowadays, the Moroccan Berber carpets have re-emerged in interior design. The trend to blend an ethnic touch into a modern interior has increased the demand for Berber rugs, keeping tradition and knowledge alive. Morocco is fashion again and the Berber influences are significant.